Monday, November 14, 2005

Why The American Library Association Won't Be Getting Any More of My Money

My American Association membership expired Oct. 31. After debating for a grand total of, oh, 20 seconds, I finally decided that my annual dues would be better spent elsewhere - to support my Equal Exchange fairly-traded coffee addiction, donations to Katrina relief, and contributions to local charities.

As a former student chapter Secretary and President, I thought I'd last longer than most Gen-X libs I know. But, alas, three years was the maximum time I could actually stomach being a member. I'm sure there's a few more traditional librarians reading this, gasping for air at the huge sucking sound created by yet another Gen-X librarian bailing on the mothership.

I guess part of it is the over-politicizing of conferences, with the professional organization trying to adopt more and more political stances on everything from the U.S. embargo of Cuba to the Iraq War. While I agree with some of the more progressive ideas espoused, ALA's political showmanship has all the impact of the fucking Girl Scouts speaking out on certain national and international foreign policies. Actually, the Girl Scouts probably have more least they sell cookies.

Additionally, the and anti- rhetoric is a turn-off. How can some members of a professional organization dedicated to the equal access of information have such opposition to the use of ICT? Is it ego? penis-envy?

Anyway, here are my other reasons for jumping ship on the American Library Association:

1. I don't feel ALA represents information professionals equally across the board. In recent decades, the Society of American Archivists, the American Society of Information Science and Technology, the Special Library Association, and others have gained numerous members at the expense of ALA. While the information professional community refocuses itself in anticipation of major shifts and rifts in the 21st century, ALA holds onto its frigging READ campaign for dear life. Its focus remains - and will remain - book-centric for decades. The focus should be on universal information access and media-independence.

2. Eventually, there will be a major shift in the international information marketplace, and ALA is totally unprepared for it.

3. The internal power struggles between factions drives me nuts. Academic -vs.- public-vs.- special librarians? Who really gives a shit, really? Most of the time, the differences end up being minor and territorial, which misses the big picture. I'm not concerned with preserving some librarian caste-system. I'm interested in maintaining collections and making them available to users across the board.

4. The ALA has no tangible power to control the quality of librarian and staff education, training, professional practices, etc. There are no enforceable standards for professional ethics to ensure that librarians are actually doing their jobs and abiding by the ALA Code of Ethics or the Library Bill of Rights.

5. I believe that we need an allied information professional organization, an international standards organization that incorporates all aspects of the Information Age from around the globe. Why have an ALA or British Library Association when one could just as easily create the United Nations of information access?

So, to the American Library Association --

"Nice knowing you, but I think we need to see other people. Its not's me, really."


kendra said...

i'm not yet a bonafide librarian, which might be why i've never understood all of the various library associations. i work with members of SLA, which seems just as political as ALA. i also see how procedural and out of tune the different organizations on campus are and it makes my head spin. what is the purpose of a meeting that only discusses future meetings?

zydeco fish said...

I think you've made some good points here. I've never joined ALA, but I see what you mean about over-politicizing. I've often wondered if what the profession needs is a licencing or accreditation body, sort like AHIP (Academy of Health Information Professionals). I still haven't decided.

Bob "Crash" Patterson said...

Talk about a coinkydink!

I have never been to an ALA conference though I have presented at Loex and hold office at the state level. So, I asked myself this year what I'm getting for my $115 or so dollars? Answer: A magazine that I could not read for free from the library that I work in!

So, this year I've decided not to renew. It seems to me that ALA has very little influence regarding our pay. Another big issue for me is this: "There are no enforceable standards for professional ethics to ensure that librarians are actually doing their jobs and abiding by the ALA Code of Ethics or the Library Bill of Rights."

I know of one science librarian who conviently forgets to order books on evolution. The only time he/she will is if a professor asks. Talk about shitty collection development and violating the so-called "code."


LibraryTavern Liz said...

I guess I won't be meeting up with you in San Antonio.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Yeh, they're all pretty much just as political. That's why I'm resisting the urge to join SLA or SAA. As for procedural protocols...yeah, librarianship is chock full of meaningless meetings.

Smart man. Probably saved lots of dough over the years ;) Seriously, I know there are a lot of archivists opposed to the archival certification, but I think that's probably more in line where the profession needs to go. Lawyers aren't lawyers just because they graduate from Law School, they have to pass some kind of bar exam. Why should librarians be any different?

Pay is the big issue, as is whether or not the ALA is all talk and little action. If, for instance, I were to challenge the Patriot Act and/or a federal order to violate patron privacy, I'm not sure ALA would do anything more than give me a nice little editorial of support. As for standards, there is no quality control mechanism above the institutional level. That's a big problem - I heard stories of librarians skewing their collections politically and culturally - and the only thing that happens is somebody gets a slap on the wrist. That makes us all look stupid.

Liz:, probably not. I probably wouldn't be able to go anyway. That would've been cool though :) I REALLY wanted to go to the IRFD World Summit this year, though...will try next year.

Anonymous said...

I dumped my membership a while ago. And I only go to conferences when I'm forced to by my husband. Thanks for saying what a lot of librarians are feeling. My daughter's a Girl Scout, but I take no offense :-)

G said...

CLA (Canada) is similar - basically it's the baby brother of ALA. Very much the same problems as what you mentioned in your post. I'll stick with my membership for now - if for no other reason than to be one of the few voices of discontent, and to work for change from within.

After all, in ten years the Bunners will be gone anyway. We'll outlive them. So yeah, I'll put up with it - our time is just around the corner, good fellow.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Anon: offense meant to the Girl Scouts. Love the thin mints. They taste a lot better than those @Your Library stickers.

Your sarfice is honorable. I think probably to the benefit of most Canadian librarians, CLA's size makes it probably easier to achieve some real change. And if you need any supplies (i.e. bun sheers, two-by-four lumber, duct tape, tear gas laced metadata, etc.) give me a holler. ;)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

You have voiced many of the things I have thought about in the time I have been a professional librarian (not very long). I went ahead and renewed for this year, more out of habit and to have it on the old resume. However, since I don't get the student break anymore on dues, it was a bigger bite, and odds are good this may be my last year since other than take my money, ALA does not really seem to do much of anything for me. And you do bring an important point: for all their politics, if I were to defy the Patriot Act or something along those lines, they would do squat for me in spite of all their rhetoric. Gorman is on the record as saying he would not go to jail for anyone who defied that way. Well, I am just going to end by thanking you for the post. Best.